The Game Commission has been ramping up the use of fire on state game lands to create habitat.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is collecting some serious coin.
It’s leasing the oil and gas rights under portions of state game lands 12 and 36 in Bradford and Sullivan counties. For that, it’s going to be paid $14.675 million.
That doesn’t mean the commission’s financial woes – the ones that have it seeking the first increase in the cost of hunting and furtaking licenses since 1999 – are over, though. Clearly sensitive to what some might think, its leaders made a point of saying that in agreeing to the deal.
The agency has been expecting this agreement to go through for a while, said executive director Matt Hough. As a result, the money is already built into the 2016-17 budget and will be used for operating expenses, he said.
“It doesn’t fix anything we’re into right now,” said commissioner Brian Hoover of Delaware County.
It’s going to take a license fee hike to solve those issues, said commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County. If the agency gets that, he added, any deals it signs like this one in the future can be used more directly to benefit sportsmen.
That’s happened already, he suggested. Responding to criticisms that the agency has used nearly $100 million in Marcellus Shale revenues over the last 10 years or so just for general operating expenses, Putnam said the commission has actually bought a tremendous amount of state game lands. It now controls 1.5 million acres.
But if lawmakers raise license prices so that the commission can meet its routine obligations, the plan is to put oil and gas revenues to use for sportsmen, he said.
“We would envision it being used on the state game lands, on the habitat, to make experiences out there better for the sportsmen,” Hoover agreed. “Ultimately, it’s their money. It should be spent on them.”
An example of the work such money could support is prescribed burns, said deputy director of field operations Rich Palmer. The commission used fire to create habitat on about 5,000 acres of game lands last year. The goal is 9,000 acres this year, and 20,000 by 2020, he said.
“That would be a very direct example of the habitat improvement that would be available to us,” Palmer said.
There’s no denying how effective fire is, added deputy director for administration Bryan Burhans. Burning has been shown to increase the amount of deer feed on a plot by 400 percent, he said.
“That’s significant,” Burhans said.